January 2007

  • Calligraphy CalendarAccord Publishing has 211 “Day-to-Day” desk calendars for 2007 and 2008 listed on their website. If you’ve got a desk calendar filled with insults, misunderstood song lyrics, redneck jokes, Jeopardy questions or cross stitch patterns, there’s a good chance it was published by Accord Publishing or its parent company, Andrews McMeel Universal.The 12-month, 365-day year is © Andrews McMeel Universal.

    Last week I bought the Calligraphy & Letter Art™ Accord Art 2007 Day-to-Day Calendar from Half Price Books. The box “[i]ncludes a FREE Elegant Writer® lettering marker! by Speedball®”The Speedball Art Company, makers of the Elegant Writer® should not be confused with the comic book character, Speedball, who is ™ and © 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. The former is well-known art supply company, while the latter was involved in an incident that triggered Civil War, a massive crossover event that has rocked the very foundation of the Marvel Universe., so I thought I was all set for 365 days of beautiful calligraphy.

    Since I’m a few weeks behind, I’ve been doing a couple of pages every night before leaving work. Each weekend introduces a new “alphabet” that is used for the following week. The first week is Chancery Italic, the second is Elder English.

    Last night I caught up to week three and was introduced to the Shindig alphabet. Unfortunately, Shindig is not designed to be written with the Elegant Writer® lettering marker! by Speedball®. The recommended tools are a “[f]ine-tipped black magic marker and multi-colored magic markers or colored pencils (not included).” I don’t keep colored pencils in my desk at work (not since we discontinued Craft Hour two years ago), but a black .7mm Bic Z4 rollerball pen seemed to be a decent replacement for a fine-tipped black magic marker. No problem.

    Flipping ahead to week four (which began on the weekend of 20 January), I see that the recommended tool for the Tuscany alphabet is a “[s]mall paintbrush with ink or watercolor (not included).” Seriously. A paintbrush.

    On week five (which started last weekend), the alphabet is Baltissimo, and we’re back to the fine-tipped magic marker (not included). In week six (Twinkle), it’s the paintbrush again (a size “000” sable brush is recommended). Finally, in week seven (beginning on 10 February) the Elegant Writer® lettering marker! by Speedball® becomes useful again, when the Chancery Italian alphabet makes its triumphant return.

    To be followed in week eight by the Savage alphabet and the damned sable brush again. Crap.

    The FREE Elegant Writer® lettering marker! by Speedball® is used for four out of the first 12 weeks. Sixty-six point six percent of first twelve weeks should be completed with a writing implement other than the one included in the box. A box on which, I should point out, the additional implement requirements recommendations are not listed.

    On the other hand, I can download a FREE Chancery Italic Practice Template from the Accord Publishing website. I don’t see anywhere I can download a FREE size “000” sable brush and watercolor paints, though. Not even from Speedball®.

  • Techstuff: Laura’s New Laptop


    I have to admit to being a little out of touch with current CPU technology. Once upon a time, it was easy to get a rough gauge of CPU performance based on the processor’s speed. My desktop has a 1.7 GHz Intel Pentium IV, while Laura’s desktop is running a 1.1 GHz Pentium III. I watched as available processor speeds passed the 2 GHz, then the 3 GHz mark.

    Last year, Intel and AMD both introduced dual-core processors, gave their products names like “Core Duo T2050” and “Turion 64 X2 TL-50”, and tucked the processor speeds away in small print. I really didn’t pay attention, because I had no need to. Apart not being able to run a growing number of new games (probably a good thing), my computer was just fine; ditto for Laura’s.

    That changed a couple of weeks ago when Laura announced that she would like to purchase a laptop. I’ve been wanting to get her one for a couple of years, but until Kyle came along she wasn’t feeling a need for mobile computing. With a curious, active one-year-old boy not content to sit quietly in his mother’s office while she checked her e-mail, designed a birthday party invitation, or scoured eBay for … stuff, Laura realized that it would be nice to have a laptop she could take into the living room while Kyle busied himself with toys and chasing cats.

    So last Saturday we went laptop shopping at Micro Center in Mayfield Heights. A lifetime ago (or so it seems), I worked at this very store, and several of the good folks I worked with are still there. I tend to shop around a bit when I want stuff like software and recordable media, but when I want hardware I always head to Micro Center. The fact that they sent me an e-mail coupon for $150 off all notebooks in the store Friday night didn’t hurt, either.

    I’d done a little poking around in the store throughout the month (purchasing a new wireless mouse, a Linksys wireless router, and a copy of Norton Internet Security 2007), so I was pretty familiar with the laptops in our price range. I had narrowed it down to three models, and the extra $150 off pretty much cemented the deal. Laura is now the owner of an Acer Aspire 5102WLMi, and I would be remiss if I didn’t provide system specs:

    • AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-50 CPU (1.6 GHz)
    • 2 GB RAM
    • 120 GB, 4200 RPM hard drive.
    • 15.4″ WXGA TFT display
    • ATI Mobility Xpress 1100 graphics adapter
    • DVD+/-R drive.
    • Integrated 802.11b/g wireless network adapter
    • Windows XP Media Center (with a free upgrade to Windows Vista, if memory serves)

    I know the Turion 64 X2 processor running at 1.6 GHz is faster than my 1.7 GHz Pentium IV, but I have no idea how much faster. Apart from initial system setup, installing OpenOffice.org, Firefox, Thunderbird, iTunes and Quicktime and watching the HD Ghost Rider trailer, I really haven’t played with it much. From what I can tell, it’s a very nice machine and will serve Laura’s needs quite well.

    I can’t help but wonder how Star Wars: Empire at War would run on it, though.

  • Podcasts: Planet Retcon and 7th Son


    The Round Table’s hiatus will soon come to an end, so I thought I’d celebrate by pimping a couple of other podcasts I’ve been involved with during the break.

    First, Chris Miller and I did a promo for J.C. Hutchins’ 7th Son trilogy. The first book in the trilogy, Descent, was fantastic, and J.C. has been consistently rocking his listeners’ socks off with Book Two, Deceit. Since 7th Son feels like an action-thriller movie, Chris and I decided to give it the movie trailer treatment. A word of warning: our promo trailer contains some mild language.

    Second is the always awesome Planet Retcon Radio. I did a couple of guest bits for “StarGate Cafe” in season one, and Wesley Clifford asked me to be the regular announcer for the new show that premiered in season two, “The Log of the Crimson Lein”.

    And that’s it. We should be recording a new episode of The Round Table in a week or two, so there’s more podcast-y goodness on the way!

  • Adstuff: Old Spice


    Contrary to popular belief, TiVo has not completely eradicated television advertising in the International House of Johnson. Every once in a while, we neglect to fast-forward through advertising blocks when watching a recorded program; occasionally, we watch live television, ads and all.

    A couple of nights ago, a new Old Spice commercial caught my eye, and I did something almost unheard of: I rewound to watch the ad again. And again.

    The ad begins in a locker room, where a well-built, shirtless fellow has a confession to make:

    I used to think it didn’t matter what deodorant I chose. Dumb.

    What follows is a side-by-side comparison of Old Spice and another brand of deodorant. Immediately after the Old Spice is applied to the skin, hair sprouts up in its wake, confirming that Old Spice is, indeed, manly.

    Shirtless Fellow continues to expound upon the virtues of Old Spice:

    Old Spice performs in real man situations, like basketball, recon and Frenching.

    Aw, yeah. Now Ol’ Shirtless is speaking my language; but he’s not quite done:

    Try Old Spice, and if you still don’t think it’s awesome, call 1-800-PROVE-IT and they’ll buy you a stick of something that smells like wildflowers and shame.

    I don’t know what shame smells like, but I know what Old Spice smells like: my dad. There’s nothing wrong with the way my dad smells; in fact, the scent of Old Spice always reminds me of getting ready to go out with my entire family when I was a young boy. I like the scent, but I don’t wear it.

    See, I’ve been a Mitchum man for going on ten years. Robert Mitchum may have had nothing to do with Mitchum deodorant and anti-perspirant, but I firmly believe that his essence makes my deodorant “so effective [I] could skip a day”. I also live in fear that if I should so much as consider switching to another brand, Robert Mitchum would kick my ass from beyond the grave.

    So kudos to Old Spice for making me laugh. Unfortunately, even your sweaty, shirtless spokesman isn’t enough to make me tempt the wrath of Robert Mitchum. Better luck next time.

  • Gamestuff: Jedi Outcast (Part 1)


    Jedi OutcastJedi Knight II: Jedi OutcastAlso known as Dark Forces 3: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast in my circle of friends. is probably my favorite non-MMO multiplayer PC game of all time. In the days of once upon a time when I attended or hosted LAN parties, everyone else was hot and heavy on Counter Strike or Day of DefeatIn the FPS wargame genre, I preferred Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. but I longed for four-on-four capture the flag on the streets of Nar Shaddaa. The combination of lightsabers, “conventional” weapons and Force powers was fantastic, and Nar Shaddaa’s perilous walkways suspended above bottomless pits made every mis-step a potential disaster. Whether you preferred to snipe your enemies from halfway across the map or get up close and personal so you could use Force Grip or Force Push to send your opponents plummeting to their death (or just cut them down with your lightsaber), the Nar Shaddaa maps could accomodate your play style.

    As much as I enjoyed the multiplayer mode, I never finished the single player campaign. If memory serves me correctly, I stopped playing shortly after the hero, Kyle Katarn, gained the Jedi Mind Trick ability. When the sequel, Jedi AcademyAKA Dark Forces 4: Jedi Knight III: Jedi Outcast II: Jedi Academy. was released, I tore through the single-player campaign in about a week, but never played the multiplayer and never went back to Jedi Outcast. Well, never until now.


  • Gamestuff: Arkham Horror Solo Play


    Arkham HorrorMiscellaneous G™ loaned me his copy 1Is it correct to call an instance of a boardgame—or any game, for that matter—a “copy”? Grammaticons, a ruling. Now! of Arkham Horror over the weekend, and I played a solo game Saturday night.

    Unbeknownst to Drake the Magician, events were unfolding in Arkham, Massachusetts that would eventually result in the Great Old One Ithaqua awakening from its aeons-long slumber. Compelled to investigate these strange occurrences, Drake soon found himself battling cultists and unspeakable monsters, traveling to indescribable Other Worlds, and feeling his grip on sanity slowly and inexorably weakening.

    In retrospect, I really wish I’d played with multiple investigators — players who frequent the forums at Fantasy Flight Games recommend playing with three or four investigators during solo play. With my lone investigator, I soon found that the turn sequence resulted in Arkham being rapidly overrun with monsters and gates to Other Worlds. 2Each turn ends with the drawing of a Mythos card, which almost always results in a new gate opening, a monster appearing, and some other horrific side-effect. Forum posters recommend a “house … Continue reading Poor Drake was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, frantically gathering the vital clues that would enable him to seal the gates. Unfortunately, his efforts were all for naught. Twice, the horror undermined Drake’s sanity and the poor man had to spend time (and money) recovering his wits in the infamous Arkham Asylum.

    To make matters worse, I drew a Mythos card (I don’t recall which one) that forced Drake to focus his efforts not on closing gates, but on battling a steady stream of monsters in one district of the city. This led to the inevitable end of the game, as Drake was unable to stand against the monsters and prevent the Terror Level in Arkham from rising to the point where the bulk of the population fled the city. Following the departure of its citizens, Arkham was then overrun with all manner of vile creatures and Drake threw in the proverbial towel.

    I suspect that I could have fared better—even with a sole investigator—had I abandoned random selection of both investigator and slumbering Great Old One. Each investigator has unique attributes and starting gear, and perhaps one of the others would have been more suited to solo play. Likewise, each Great Old One has its own attributes and effect on the game overall, some more challenging than others. Pitting Drake against Ithaqua may not have been the wisest of moves, but as a new player I really didn’t know any better.

    There’s a lot to keep track of in Arkham Horror, and as a new player doing a solo game, it would have helped to have someone keeping me honest as far as things like monster limits, the Doom and Terror Tracks, and various other game elements that must be monitored from turn to turn. I’m sure that I flubbed a few things here and there, but it was still fun inspite of the crushing sense of despair and hopeless and the knowledge that my efforts would bear little fruit.

    Next time (if I can borrow the game again), I’ll play with a team of three or four hand-selected investigators and choose a Great Old One that won’t add much complexity to the game. Perhaps I’ll manage to stave off the horrors for a while longer, perhaps I’ll be consumed by madness or lost in time and space, but I won’t go down without a fight.

    1 Is it correct to call an instance of a boardgame—or any game, for that matter—a “copy”? Grammaticons, a ruling. Now!
    2 Each turn ends with the drawing of a Mythos card, which almost always results in a new gate opening, a monster appearing, and some other horrific side-effect. Forum posters recommend a “house rule” for solo play, wherein Mythos cards are only drawn every other turn.
  • WordPress Upgraded


    I just upgraded to the latest version of WordPress. If anything looks funky or doesn’t work right, please let me know.

  • Gamestuff: The Gentleman’s Wager


    Perhaps one of the truly annoying things about Miscellaneous G™ is that he writes things down. During lunch, we’ll be having a conversation about video games and how I rarely seem to finish them, and I’ll say something like, “I’ll bet I can finish at least two games in the next year.” The conversation will continue and eventually I’ll forget that my mouth has written a check that my skillz may or may not be able to cash.

    Then, four months later we’ll be having another conversation about video games and I’ll be reminded that I’ve got less than eight months to finish Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption and Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast. When we return from lunch, Miscellaneous G™ will produce a Post-It Note date 16 August 2006 indicating our “gentleman’s wager”.

    And so, honor is at stake. I shall have to install both games on my computer again, and hopefully I’ll be able to locate my Vampire save games. Alas, I fear that whatever progress I made in Jedi Outcast is gone forever, so I’ll have to start that one anew.

    Now I’m wishing I hadn’t spent thirteen hours over the past four days playing Final Fantasy I on my Game Boy Advance SP.

  • Game Night: 16 January 2007


    Miscellaneous G™ came over to the International House of Johnson last night, putting an end to the Game Night Winter Holiday Hiatus. Here’s how it went down:


    Miscellaneous G™ was in the right place at the right time last week and managed to score the much-coveted Nintendo console. We took a swing (literally, in most cases) at all of the Wii Sports games: baseball, boxing, bowling, golf and tennis. I give bowling and tennis high marks, but they were all fun. We also played some of the mini-games in Rayman Raving Rabbids. I enjoyed shooting rabbits with my plunger-gun, but I think I may have hurt myself while spraying carrot juice into their SCUBA masks — and then there was the moral ambiguity of the cow-hammer toss. Moo.

    Arkham Horror

    I’ve wanted to play this Lovecraftian horror board game ever since I heard Mur Lafferty mention it on Geek Fu Action Grip. I’ve known there was a copy of the game sitting at Comics Heaven in Willoughby for at least six months, but I’ve never been willing to plunk down fifty bucks of my hardly earned cash to make it mine. Once again, Miscellaneous G™ came to the rescue; he plucked the game from the very shelf where I’d seen it on numerous occasions and completed the requisite financial transaction like a true capitalist.

    For a board game, the rules of Arkham Horror are pretty hefty, and there are many, many different types of cards and tokens. After a few rounds, we started to get the hang of it. Unfortunately, it was right around that time that the one o’clock hour drew nigh, and we decided to bring the evening’s activities to a close. The Ancient One had not yet awakened from its slumber (though the Young One did), but there were monsters roaming the streets of Arkham and several gates to Other Worlds had been opened (and one closed). I look forward to playing this game from start to finish in the (hopefully) near future.

    Between the Wii and Arkham Horror, we didn’t have time to bust out Marvel Ultimate Alliance or Burnout: Revenge on the Xbox, and we were one person short for a game of Apples to Apples, but there will be other Game Nights for all of those things.

  • Welcome to Parenthood: One Year


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    My young apprentice has been free from the uterine hoosegow for three hundred and sixty-five (consecutive) days, a milestone we deemed worthy of celebration. As is customary on such occasions, there was cake.

    There were also friends and relatives, who came bearing gifts. The earliest gift of the day, however, arrived at approximately 8:45am in the form of a technician from Time-Warner who brought high-speed Internet access to the International House of Johnson. Oddly enough, Kyle seemed far more interested in his new V-Tech Smartville Alphabet Train Station. Perhaps another three hundred sixty-five days will change that… or perhaps not.